With the advent and rise of the Internet, digital property rights have become an increasingly hot-topic in the Board rooms and Executive Offices of major companies, particularly those in the hi-tech industry. Much like the information protected under intellectual property rights, digital products provide their creators with certain protections under the law. The problems and legal challenges facing major companies like Yahoo and Facebook will help better define the laws surrounding digital property rights, and likely present opportunities as well as a whole host of new legal questions.
Attendees agreed that it’s critical for companies to gain greater leverage to deter nuisance lawsuits and manage costs by reducing the cost of litigation defense. According to those surveyed this is accomplished, at least in part, through the use of joint defense groups (JDGs), where parties engage in shared co-counsel to reduce defense costs. JDGs have been used in approximately two-thirds of all NPE cases, and three-quarters of those surveyed reported working in some capacity with JDGs.
Today I attended the an event on Intellectual Property and the US Economy which was held in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on the White House grounds. The purpose of the event was to unveil a study — Intellectual Property and the U.S. Economy: Industries in Focus — prepared by the Economics and Statistics Administration and the United States Patent and Trademark Office. The study found that intellectual property intensive industries support at least 40 million jobs in the United States and contribute more than $5 trillion dollars to U.S. gross domestic product (GDP). That is to say that 27.7% of all jobs in the U.S. were either directly or indirectly attributable to IP-intensive industries, and the amount contributed to the U.S. economy represents a staggering 34.8% of GDP.
It is also critical for inventors and entrepreneurs to have a strategy to succeed, which seems simple enough, but is typically anything but simple for the creative types that are so good at inventing. The goal is not to create an invention that is cool, the goal is not to get a patent, the goal is almost universally to make money. The cool invention and patent are a means to the end, not the end in and of themselves. If you approach your patent activities appropriately you can lay the foundation of a business plan, at least insofar as the technology and technological advancement of your innovation is concerned. But like almost everything in life, there is a cost associated with succeeding. The cost is hard work to be sure, but there will also be significant financial requirements as well. While you may need to bootstrap your invention and business, as you move forward you will invariably need funding. From Angel investors to start, and maybe from Venture Capitalists eventually.
This all came to a head when, on February 22, 2012, Microsoft Corporation filed a formal competition law complaint against Google with European Union antitrust regulators. Microsoft’s complaint was brought about because Google (i.e., Motorola Mobility) “has refused to make its patents available at anything remotely close to a reasonable price” and “attempting to block sales of Windows PCs, our Xbox game console and other products.” Well isn’t Google’s “maximum per-unit royalty of 2.25% of the net selling price for the relevant end product” in compliance with FRAND!? If you consider that often dozens (and sometimes, hundreds) of patents cover a single device, the answer is a resounding “no.” At 2.25% per patent, it would take only about four dozen patents before the entire selling price would be paid in royalties – an obviously absurd result.
Raymond P. Niro is patent litigator with tremendous experience and a reputation that is larger than life. To some he is a champion of independent inventors and small business community, frequent clients of his. To others he is nearly the definition of evil. It was as a consequence of a lawsuit one of his clients brought against Intel in 2001 that the term “patent troll” was coined. He has been trial counsel in literally hundreds of intellectual property cases, and since 1996, has won verdicts and settlements for his clients totaling more than $1 billion. On March 12, 2012, he went on the record for this exclusive interview.
Despite difficult economic conditions worldwide, international patent filings under the WIPO-administered Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT) set a new record in 2011 with 181,900 applications – a growth of 10.7% when compared with 2010, and the fastest growth since 2005. China, Japan and the United States accounted for 82% of the total growth, and the Chinese telecommunications company ZTE Corporation was the largest filer of PCT applications in 2011. 2011 also saw the highest number of international trademark applications ever filed under WIPO’s Madrid System for the International Registration of Marks (“Madrid system”) with 42,270 applications, or a 6.5 % increase compared to 2010.
A conversation with Matthew Bryan, who is the Director of the PCT Legal Division at the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) regarding what WIPO is doing to combat patent schemes that plague the industry. As you will see, these schemes are lucrative. In one case that Bryan tells us about, in which he was an expert witness, a court in Florida “found that in the 2 years of operating, FIPTR had received over 2.5 million dollars in payments from PCT users just in the State of Florida.” With that kind of money potential it is easy to see why the scams persist.
Prior user rights also implicate free rider problems with respect to a subsequent patent that an inventor obtains covering the subject matter of the secret prior user. At the point of publication the prior user no longer maintains a trade secret. At the point of issuance, the patentee and the prior user relatively co-exist with each other in the market. The patentee excludes others from the market except for the prior user. The prior user then enjoys the benefits and advantages associated with the patentee excluding others from operating in the market, while being free from liability to the patentee. In this regard, the prior user enjoys the period of time operating the technology in secret in addition to 20 years of excluding others provided by the competitor.
What’s troubling is that Hewlett Packard itself, the original startup headquartered in a garage, was one of the earliest and most-respected leaders of the 20th Century high-tech revolution that had its epicenter in Silicon Valley. It was William Hewlett who gave a 13-year-old Steve Jobs spare parts for a device Jobs was building — and a summer job as well. And it was Mr. Hewlett and his executive heirs who insisted that HP conscientiously patent its breakthrough innovations and fight against those that infringed those patents. HP today earns hundreds of millions of dollars annually by licensing its patent rights to others — according to IAM magazine, “at any one time, HP has about 150 licensing transactions in process.” And as the court dockets show, it certainly isn’t shy about filing suit against infringers who refuse to take a license.
So who is the villain in all of these wars responsible for again giving patents a bad rap? Well, the villain in not the ITC, USPTO or any U.S. government agency. Nor it is any country’s protectionist trade regime, or an “irreparably broken” U.S. or global patent system. No, the real villains here may very well be a handful of companies that willingly contributed patented technologies to various SSOs, championing their adoption and encouraging their use in a host of consumer electronics, and now claim (years later) that the very producers they encouraged to implement these standards should be barred from making, using or importing their products into the U.S. market.
The UK Intellectual Property Office (UK IPO) characterizes it as misleading, warning “don’t be misled.” The European Patent Office (EPO) calls it deceitful, characterizing it as “subterfuge,” and further pointing out that “their services have no legal effect whatsoever.” The World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) says that they are “unrelated to the processing of international applications.” Yet many continue to believe that the nefarious and seemingly ubiquitous solicitations sent to patent applicants and owners are official invoices that must be paid in order to continue to move forward with an international patent application or foreign patent application.
On September 17, 2011, I attended the Signing of the America Invents Act at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology. A young lady named Rebecca Hyndman, who is a senior at the high school, introduced President Obama, which took place immediately prior to his signing the Act into law. Rebecca was chosen for this honor because at the age of just 14 she acquired a patent for her own innovation. Recently, I ran into her father, Kelly Hyndman, at another IP event. While discussing the AIA signing ceremony, I asked Mr. Hyndman if he would mind my interviewing his daughter for our blog. With his blessing I conducted the following Interview.
At this time of the year many attorneys and agents are not paying all that much attention to the rules and requests for comments coming out of the Patent Office. Truthfully, with the number of changes that have taken place under the Kappos run Patent Office and the enormity of the America Invents Act many patent attorneys, including myself, are worn out! Add to that the typical end of the year matters for clients and our own businesses and it is easy to miss announcements in November and December.
My review of the state-of-the-art sleigh technologies shows that during the early 1880s more comfortable sleigh rides were on the minds of many an inventor, and by the mid to late 1890s improvements evolved to include additional features, such as removable seats, steps to assist one to enter and disembark from the sleigh and various steering mechanisms. Like virtually all reviews of patented technology, even such low tech inventions as sleighs, the ongoing evolution of improvement is apparent, which is the hallmark of innovation. Make things safer, faster, cheaper or stronger. Innovate to make operational improvements the users will greatly appreciate, such a smoother riding sleigh. Such a review of sleigh technology also gives us a glimpse into life of the day by showing us the problems that creative members of society were working to solve.